Editor’s Question: What are your thoughts on the introduction of a four-day week?

Editor’s Question: What are your thoughts on the introduction of a four-day week?

Chantel Emilius, Executive Director of Culture & Engagement at Freedom, explains her thoughts on a four-day week – It’s been a turbulent few years for both employees and employers alike, from managing the uncertainties of the pandemic and the subsequent change in working conditions and expectations to the continuing cost of living crisis. We’re facing a decisive moment in working culture, with hybrid work becoming the norm, something many couldn’t have imagined pre-pandemic. 

As external uncertainties have increased, the need for organisations to adapt quickly and take a human-led approach has never been more important. In the wake of ‘quiet-quitting’ and low staff engagement, organisations are responsible for ensuring their employees love working for them. In my experience, introducing the four-day working week has delivered positive results for our organisation and should be a model all businesses consider, if suitable.

People can and should work four days a week while being paid the same wage. In my role as Executive Director of Culture & Engagement at Freedom Services Group, I implemented a six-month trial of a four-day working week, resulting in a huge success and the permanent implementation of the scheme this January.

Starting in July 2022, we piloted the four-day week with the same pay level, and the results speak for themselves. Our staff turnover rate is down to 6% from 31% and 80% of our overall workforce opted into the programme. We saw overall productivity increase by 12.5% in our operational areas!

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive as staff have commented that their overall wellbeing has improved, and burnout has decreased. Our staff can use the extra day a week to engage in passion projects, self-care and so on. We’ve even seen two of our staff set up their own businesses as they have more time to do so.

My advice to any business considering the four-day working week is to just go for it! Ensure you’ve got a plan and the KPIs in place, considering your organisation’s individual needs. Now that we’ve implemented the four-day working week permanently, the schedule is running on a rotational basis to ensure somebody from every department is available when necessary.

It’s been so rewarding to see the benefits of this first-hand, proving there is both a tangible human and business case behind the four-day working week. Our culture has benefitted massively. Not to mention how this gives a competitive edge when recruiting top talent. The benefits are glaringly obvious, and I’d encourage other business leaders to make the four-day working week work for their business and employees where possible.

Ross O’Brien, Managing Director, Wysa:

Our latest research, All Worked Up, shows that more than one in three (35%) working adults experience moderate to severe depression or severe anxiety symptoms – twice as high as the average UK adult prevalence. Increasing workload demands, long hours, the cost of living crisis, the hangover of the pandemic – there is the perfect storm for employees to be struggling. And 52% of them haven’t spoken with a health professional, with over a quarter (26%) saying they simply don’t have time and a further 16% saying they can’t get an appointment at a convenient time.

Despite so many mental health and wellbeing policies, people aren’t comfortable speaking to their HR teams. Eighty-four percent would choose to speak to a clinically validated mental health app than their HR team. Only 13% of people would take time off work citing mental health as the reason, with half choosing to work regardless (48%) and others either taking paid time off or blaming physical health rather than be honest.

A four day week could help people’s mental health, as it frees up time for therapy, exercise, creative hobbies or just rest. It gives them the time they need to rest and recharge. It’s not necessarily about imposing a certain work structure though. Flexibility is essential. Asking people what works for them, whether that’s compressed hours or shorter days, so you’re aligned to individual needs, will enable you to support employees best.

It’s a win win. Rested and happy employees are more productive and effective. According to the World Health Organisation, depression and anxiety cost the global economy US$1 trillion each year, predominantly from reduced productivity, while London School of Economics say that ‘even before the cost of living crisis, UK employers already had to contend with costs of up to £56 billion per annum due to poor staff mental health.’

What our research shows is that employees are struggling right now and need effective support. The introduction of a four day working week could for many be just what is needed, to help alleviate the crisis our employees and employers are clearly facing.

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage:

The idea of a four-day working week is not a new concept, but it is still as polarising as ever. In July 2022, the UK conducted a six-month test pilot that included 41 companies and saw a positive response. Of the companies involved in the trial, 88% said that the arrangement was working well for them, with 86% saying they’d likely keep it once the pilot is over. A few suggesting that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the ‘new normal’.

As such, businesses across the UK should review the results from the trial and consider if it’s something that could work for their workforce. Fifteen percent of respondents have said that their productivity has significantly improved.

Also, our own research shows that 36% of SMEs would prefer a better work/life balance to keep them engaged. So having a four-day week, gives employees the flexibility they are looking for.

Interestingly, the five-day working week was something that was introduced centuries ago. However, this was at a time when, for many, there was the traditional family set-up, men would be working while women would focus on their work within the home and supporting the raising of the family. The world has changed significantly since, placing more importance on work/life balance and personal wellbeing, especially mental health.

In my opinion, the four-day work week could be a critical component to help to encourage a more equal workplace, allowing employees to have more time to be with their families and achieve a better work/life balance. This has become one of the top priorities for the workers, with recent research revealing more than two thirds of employees see work/life balance as more important than pay. This is a clear sign that people are now prioritising their wellbeing as highly as other factors, like pay and benefits.

During the four-day week, most employees will most likely be expected to work the same 40-hour weeks, but in four days instead of five. This will need to be carefully approached, with leaders finding a sustainable way to support workers with their time to avoid overwhelming stress levels while balancing the needs of the business

The four-day working week would be a great thing for businesses to implement. However, this arrangement will not suit every business model, for example, industries such as healthcare might not benefit from this kind of change. Before making any decision, businesses need to make the right considerations on if introducing this is the best thing for the business, equally it may be that exploring the four-day working week leads to a variation of another type of flexible working such as nine working days over 10. They also need to listen to employees and cater to their needs.

Ivan Harding, Co-founder and CEO, Applaud:

I have concerns about the introduction of the four-day work week, due to the unintended negative impact it might have on employees. A shorter work week could inadvertently lead to increased stress due to a greater workload and more pressure to ‘get things done’ in a shorter time frame. Employers need to be aware of the toll this could take on employees, particularly on their mental health, and have in place support if needed.

The idea of working fewer hours is enticing, but if companies want to reduce the working time down to four days a week (a reduction of 20%), an active conversation needs to happen around how this impacts business targets. Are performance goals or employee expectations also going to lower by 20% to accommodate the changing working hours or is it clear to the employee that what they’re signing up for is the same output in a smaller time frame?

Given the current state of the economy and the expense of living, the workforce is unlikely to welcome a pay decrease, even if it comes with a day off. Management should be ready for backlash from their workforce if they decide to offer reduced salaries to cater to the reduced output caused by the four-day work week.

Although some businesses are choosing to go ahead with this idea, I just don’t see this as a viable option in the current economic climate due to the potential cost implications. A lot of questions need to be answered around increased productivity vs decreased wages, employee wellbeing and overall business impact.

As a result, I don’t expect that the four-day work week will have an overall positive impact on employees in the long-term and may prove difficult for many to implement.

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